Negotiating for Prisoners in Israel

Gilad Shalit, a staff sergeant in Israel’s defense force, was seized by Hamas, a militant Islamist group, in a cross-border raid in June 2006. He has been held in Gaza since then.

Shalit has been in the hearts of most Israelis and his story has been followed in the years since his capture.

The Israeli government has gone to many lengths to bring him and many of its other soldiers back home. Israel seemed close to concluding a trade with Hamas to return Gilad Shalit on November 20. In exchange for Shalit, Hamas requested that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, most of whom are terrorists and murderers. Such prisoners include Marwan Barghouti, who received five life sentences in 2004 for his involvement in killing Israelis. Barghouti is one of the West Bank’s most popular leaders and the potential successor to Mahmoud Abbas, the current Palestinian president.

However, the release of numerous violent fighters and the possibility of Hamas gaining more political power over the Palestinian Authority have made this trade incredibly complicated for Israelis. The group has made clear its intention to destroy Israel since its inception in 1948. Hamas has also made negotiations increasingly difficult by requesting the release of some Israeli Arabs; this means that there would be the possibility of Hamas gaining even more clout and support among the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians.

It seems that Israel’s hands are tied — double knotted, in fact. There is no question that Israel wants to bring Gilad Shalit home, but should it be at the cost of returning not one, but hundreds of violent individuals, who are intent on destroying Israel? This is not Israel’s first attempt to learn about Shalit’s status and return him to his family. In fact, the video of Shalit that was recently released came at the price of releasing 20 Palestinian female terrorists from Israel’s jails. On a larger scale, Israel has made various efforts to cater to the Palestinians’ grievances, the most recent being Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement to halt new residential construction in West Bank Jewish settlements for ten months. Settlements have been and continue to be a controversial issue with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Netanyahu’s announcement is a gesture to move toward peace to the Middle East.

Israel, like every other country in the world, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens. But by releasing so many prisoners, Israel puts itself at risk. It knows that these prisoners, who were captured for being potential suicide bombers and for throwing rockets into Israel, will resume their actions once they are returned to the arms of Hamas. Upon visiting Sderot, a city south of Israel in 2008, President Obama witnessed the unfortunate situation himself. He was quoted as saying, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

So the question becomes: what should Israel do? Should it negotiate with Hamas, an organization who clearly opposes its existence and is responsible for the deaths of numerous Israeli citizens, many of them children? Personally, I would find it extremely difficult to make deals with a militant group who not only does not represent its nation-state, but also has unfailingly used terror as a weapon to further its goals? It is time for Hamas to stop its vicious games and commit to being a legitimate political party. It needs to make a positive stand and strive to make constructive change by giving the Palestinian people an honest voice. Hamas has denied the Palestinian people their basic civil rights and continues to do so. For example, when aid was being sent to Gaza, much of it by Israel, Hamas seized available resources and auctioned them to the highest bidder, denying care to the poor.

What would you do?

If you save one person, it is the same as saving the world. Israel is currently in the process of negotiating a deal to save one of its children, one of its soldiers. It seems that Israel agrees with me.

Sepi Termechi is a fourth-year psychology major. He can be reached at stermech@uci.edu.